I finished disc 1. Spoiler commentary below the fold, in which I suggest that the whole issue of reality vs virtual reality is a huge red herring.
I can see where things are going now. First, Lain is clearly changing in response to the stimuli of the Wired. Oddly, her physical age seems to change with her personality – that may either be a stylistic effect by the writers or may actually be a change in her “avatar” (assuming the “real” world is really part of the Wired). Or a combination of both, as she tells her father, the boundary between the Wired and reality isn’t distinct, so perhaps as she grows within the Wired her physical self is affected. Which would make this fantasy, not sci-fi, but given this blog’s header graphic, who am I to complain about that?
The issue of the game of Phantoma is kind of heavy-handed. People are playing games on the Wired, and the Knights have done something to make these games actually interact. So a boy playing a first-person shooter like Doom ends up rampaging through a kindergartener’s virtual playground. All well and good, but then why does the child actually die? What was the child doing on the roof? How did the boy kill the child in reality? He didn’t even have a real gun! I know, I know – reality and the Wired have blurry borders.
And let’s not forget that even before (child) Lain upgrades her Navi with the Psyche chip, she is already recognized by the Bartender at club Cyberia. And her schoolmates say they saw a grl at Cyberia who looked like Lain – but that was before Lain even had her new Navi. So clearly Lain has been in the Wired before.
In this series thus far I feel like the Wired is more of a demonic place than a virtual one. The old adage comes to mind – dare not to stare too long into the Abyss, lest it stare back. In fact a lot of this series makes more sense if you think of computers as spells, the Wired as Hell, and the entire thing really a comment about Pandora’s box. That gives the series, thus far, more meaning than the whole reality-unreality thing, which frankly has been done with much more flair in Star Trek:Next Generation (Riker, Moriarty, and the holodeck), The Matrix, and pretty much everything by Philip K. Dick. While I wait for disc 2 in the mail from Netflix I might give disc 1 another spin with this new demonic interpretation in mind. It might make a hell of a lot more sense.
UPDATE: Pete was pretty harsh on Lain. I will add that by the end of disc 1 of Haibane Renmei, I was mesmerized. Having finished Disc 1 of Lain, I’m just tired.